Do not be Afraid
By Christy Staats
December 20, 2019
“Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.”
A young virgin receives a visit from an angel. He tells her she is favored by God, she will soon conceive and have a child even though she is a virgin, and his name will be Jesus. The heavenly being tells her:
“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.
And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there
will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-38)
As the angel first speaks to Mary, he knows her troubled spirit at his appearance and says, “Do not be afraid.”
“Do not be afraid” or “do not fear” is repeated at the visitation of angels, in the face of danger by evil rulers or invading armies, and not to be afraid of obeying God. More than 70 times people are told not to fear in Scripture.
God would be with them.
Instead of fear they are reminded to obey God and to trust him.
In the US there are many Christians who are afraid. Some are afraid that churches will have to close in the future because of losing tax exempt status if they preach Christian doctrine. Some are afraid that free speech and the rights of Christians to have Christian convictions will have legal implications. Some are afraid of terrorism as they watch the news.
However, Advent tells us a different story.
Advent is the story of God’s idea of salvation. It does not come in the form of a rescue by a strongman. Salvation comes in the form of the weakness of a baby.
Throughout Scripture God’s people are told to fear God and not to fear man. They are told to obey God even when it’s costly. Lastly, instead living in fear, God’s people are told to care for others. As theologian Nicholas Wolterstorff coined the phrase, we are called to care for the “quartet of the vulnerable.” The widow, the poor, the foreigner and the orphan are repeated throughout Scripture as groups of people that we are called to protect, care for, treat as our own, and advocate for just treatment under the law and in society. (Zech. 7:10, Deut. 10:18, Deut. 24:17 Prov. 14:21) God reminds his people that caring for them is a reflection of their faith in him (Isaiah 58:6-12). Jesus says it is the same as caring for him. (Matt 25:31-45)
In 1 Samuel, God’s people wanted a king to protect them and to be like all of the other nations, a strongman. God tells Samuel, “It is not you they have rejected but me” and exhorts Samuel to tell his people what the cost of having a king will be and what the king will demand of them.
God’s people were not without warrant for their fears. They saw danger around them and wanted someone who would fight their battles for them. But God reminds them that in looking for a king, they are rejecting the safety and protection of His rule and that the King would make demands of them that would not be good.
It can be tempting for us to do the same when we look at the crises in the world. We can look to the troubles of the world and take our eyes off God and look to promises of safety and security to save us. The world is filled with troubles and these are just a few. There are now more than 70 million displaced people in the world today. 25 million of these are refugees displaced outside of their home country. There are 55,000 asylum seekers waiting in dangerous conditions in cartel filled states just south of our border because of our new Remain in Mexico policy for an opportunity to make their asylum case. Despite the objections from the medical community on the long term developmental damage to children, we appealed to expand family detention to hold more than 15,000 people indefinitely. Over 47,000 lives have been taken in the opioid crises and millions more have been affected. 40 million US adults struggle with anxiety disorders.
Who will save us? Our leaders have played on our fears of danger and made asylum seekers the enemy, putting in place policies that have hurt the vulnerable instead of allowing us as a nation to use our vast infrastructure, historically unprecedented resources, and the kindness and welcome of the American people, including millions of followers of Jesus to welcome the stranger.
In Advent we prepare our hearts for Jesus. God’s plan was not strength but weakness. God’s plan was a baby. God’s plan was revelation to shepherds before rulers and foreigners before the king. A baby born to a working-class couple under questionable conditions was God’s plan. A child who would grow to save people not by the sword or by political power or by financial wealth but by dying for them.
How do we not fear this Christmas?
We trust the message that God sent us through an angel to a young girl. “Do not fear.” We trust that God’s provision was a baby. That baby would grow to be a man who would not be a strongman. Yet, he had authority. He would cast out demons, heal the sick, calm the storms, and call sinners to repent all the while caring for the weak and the vulnerable, the ceremonially unclean and the scorned.
This advent we can lean into and advocate for those affected by the broken places of the world because we have Jesus. We don’t need to save ourselves. We have a better king than any earthly king and his name is Jesus. We can trust Jesus with the troubles of the world as he calls us to follow him and, as the angel tells Mary, not to be afraid.
Christy Staats is finishing her Masters in Theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. She worked for Cru (Campus Crusade for Christ) for over 15 years. She currently focuses on advocating for immigration reform and immigrants in her home state of Ohio, and other areas of the American Midwest